The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 10
Based on the forthcoming book:

eXtreme Project Management:
Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group

COMMUNICATE, communicate, Communicate (Part 2 of 2)
Principles and Practices for Influencing Others

(This article has been adapted from the chapter entitled "How to Lead the Process: Principles, Values and Interpersonal Skills," from eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face Of Volatility, to be published by Jossey-Bass, October 2004)

In Part 1 of this two-part article, I pointed out that eXtreme project management recognizes that projects are people and not Gantt charts and templates (although these have their place.) That's why "People First" is one of the ten Shared Values of extreme project management. And in the previous article I covered fundamental techniques for communicating and influencing:
  • The WIIFT (What's in it for them) principle
  • Keys to effective listening

In this article I'll cover four more essential communicating and influencing skills.

The Relationship Consistency Principle
You cannot effectively influence someone if your communication is out of sync with your relationship to the person you are communicating with.

Every communication has two components: the content (i.e., the message being delivered) as well as the implied relationship of the communicator to the other person. For instance, it's one thing to say to my 17-year-old son, "Get the car washed today." It's quite another to say to my significant other, "Get the car washed today." She would likely get out of joint because our implied relationship is one of equals (called a symmetrical relationship). In contrast my relationship with my son is by and large complementary. And as the parent, I have an implied power advantage over him as well.

Or, it may be appropriate to tell one of your peers about the wild weekend you just enjoyed, who you were with and what you did. The same story told to your project sponsor could make him feel very awkward. It violates an implied relationship boundary.

In navigating the stakeholder community, it's important that you know the level of the person you are dealing with so that you communicate in a responsible way. So, keep your communication consistent with your relationship.

The Message Wrapper Principle
How you say it can have more of an impact than what you say.

From time to time I receive an e-mail that is written in blue font. That tends to stop me and get my immediate attention. Since blue is now being abused as the attention-getting color, some people I correspond with have upgraded to red. That really grabs me. I'm just waiting for someone to escalate to red UPPER CASE letters. I guess that would be a cause to panic. Or, it may also imply that they are shouting at me and turn me away.

Similarly, how we use our voice materially influences the result: pace, volume, emphasis and the confidence with which we say it. "GET THE CAR WASHED, SON" versus "get the car washed, son."

Bottomline: To influence people, be aware of not only what you say, but also how you wrap it.

The I Am Responsible Principle
The communicator has full responsibility to ensure the communication gets through to the receiver.

We've all suffered through hose and dose lectures in college where the professor appears to be speaking a foreign language, showing no sensitivity to the audience. And the audience doesn't get it. The onus is always on the communicator to get the message across and to validate the message hit or missed the mark.

As a professional speaker, my most important step in preparing for a speaking engagement is to fully understand the audience I am speaking with: their working environment, their challenges, issues, frustrations, their level of expertise in my subject matter, their hopes and what they want from me. When I do this well I have an impact.

It can be a disaster to talk down to an audience or to talk above their heads. Just like with this article, if my audience doesn't get it, it's my fault not yours.

The No Techno Babble Principle
When speaking to a Roman speak like a Roman.

This principle is related to the I Am Responsible Principle You wouldn't get up front of a first grade class and proceed to quote from Henry Stapp's paper on "S-Matrix Interpretation of Quantum Theory." Yet, I have witnessed presentations by experienced project managers in which they drag out 27 overhead slides and proceed to quote from the PMBOK® Guide to explain the intricacies of Earned Value computations for the benefit of the project's sponsor and business team.

As Wayne Dix who heads the PMO for AXA Financial has said, "The project sponsor doesn't care about the PMBOK." (The PMBOK is a guide to the Body of Knowledge and is published by the Project Management Institute. A lot of it is written in projectmanagementtechnobabble which is not so easy to understand and needs to be decoded for non-practitioners.)

Good communication joins. Poor communication separates. The job of the extreme project manager is to unify critical stakeholders in pursuit of a common mission that will produce a business benefit. The project is first and foremost a business venture that just happens to be undertaken using project management principles and tools. It's not a project management venture. You want to speak in the customer's business terms. Speaking project management techno babble separates the project (and the profession) from its customers, the ones paying the bills. It creates an us versus them split. If you want managers, sponsors, team members and other stakeholders to be more inclined to embrace project management, find ways of talking the talk in everyday language. For starters, position project management as a "goal achievement process."

In having now worked with over 250 project teams, many of which were implementing eXtreme projects, I've never seen an example where effective communications was not an essential, if not overriding skill for the project manager and team members. The 6 principles and practices covered in the last two articles can make all the difference.

eXtremely yours,


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